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My Darling Devastation

October 19, 2010

You know why most recent anime comedies suck, and why Rumiko Takahashi will likely never be surpassed in that category?

No one knows how to execute complete and utter comedic mayhem like she does.

Apparently that Ranma 1/2 OAV that I saw earlier in the year was just a part of some anniversary revival of sorts. There’s an accompanying Urusei Yatsura OAV. They both have the same “Let’s Gangbang Ataru Because He’s A Lecherous Punkass” opening where Inu Yasha, girl Ranma, and Lum put the beatdown on poor ol’ Ataru, complete with the whole “let’s ignore everything else Takahashi has ever made” bits.

The OAV also has the same “as good as it ever was and makes you wonder why they don’t make good comedies like this anymore “vibe to it.

Ranma and Lum both have the same zany, anything-goes attitude between them that Takahashi all but abandoned once she got all serious and lame with Inu Yasha. The difference between the two is that Lum may be even more over the top, probably because it doesn’t have as many “rules” limiting the way its world operates. Ranma’s whacked out and all, but there’s still the whole fighting anime/cursed spring shtick that it sticks to. Ranma has its own twister logic. Lum doesn’t really play with that. It’s a twisted mish-mash of Japanese spiritualism, sci-fi tropes, and romantic comedy bits. It tosses everything together into a box and blows it up. Literally.

It’s more Looney Tune than it is anime, and that’s a good thing.

That’s where this OAV goes. It starts with a relatively innocent premise, the way almost any Rumiko Takahashi joint does: There’s a race taking place at school and all the students have to compete. There’s the usual “high stakes” involved, since the winner of the race won’t have to do homework for the rest of the school year, while anyone that refuses to participate will be given five years worth of homework to do over summer vacation.

Then shit escalates from there.

The race is booby-trapped, both intentionally and unintentionally. The floors are lined with grease and tar, hurdles are placed in inopportune spots, and other deliberate obstacles abound while students pull out a myriad of weapons, ranging from swords to alien tech bazookas to household furniture, to clear out the competition. There’s no rhyme or reason to the actions of the characters beyond “this is what I do because it’s what I do.” The characters of Ranma are all martial artists, even when it’s something as ridiculous as Martial Arts Tea Ceremony. Lum doesn’t bother with codifying one’s abilities. One chick is super strong because that’s what she does. Another chick is an alien with a bazooka because that’s what she does. A dude has a sword because that’s what he does. It’s like The Coyote pulling out his ACME products to bust one on the Road Runner while Elmer Fudd and Yosemite Sam draw their sidearms and Bugs Bunny crossdresses. That’s just the shit they do.

It’s that controlled chaos that makes Lum so awesome. It’s the sort of playground mentality, where everyone plays the character they want to be and doesnt’ give a damn that it doesn’t really make sense as some sort of cohesive whole. Very few comedy writers in anime are willing to pull off that kind of shtick, and that’s what makes these old school Takahashi skits so enjoyable. No one else has the balls to do it.

And the craziness doesn’t stop there. Other aliens arrive. Giant cats get into the mix, flying along side old men and baby fire-breathing cousins. Even a full-on military invasion takes place, complete with carpet bombing helicopters, all because of a silly school festival race that has ever-changing rules and winning conditions.

Something else I’ve always loved about Takahashi’s comedies is the way she portrays schools. In her world, school is something akin to the game show from The Running Man. The schools are always run by sadistic freaks who allow their kids to run rampant, making everyday tasks into battles of life and death where the winner receives some trivial prize that’s construed into something that’s worth dying and killing over.

When you get down to it, it’s a far more realistic (if exaggerated) take on the way schools operate in comparison to most other anime series. Even most comedies aren’t willing to go all out to that extent. Cromartie High School was that way to a certain extent, but even the likes of Baka to Test were pretty tame in comparison to the schools of Lum and Ranma.

Gah! These OAVs have been awesome. Shame these may be the last of their kind.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 20, 2010 4:05 AM

    You know, Seto no Hanayome does pretty much exactly what you’re asking for in this post. Full scale war erupts in the school over the two school idols.

    I watched the first episode of Urusei Yatsura recently. Drew a massive blank for me I’m afraid. Having much more fun with Mobile Suit Gundam

    • Landon permalink*
      October 20, 2010 1:22 PM

      Never got around to Hanayome. Might have to check it out.

      Lum’s not gonna appeal to everyone, so I can’t blame you there. But “drew a massive blank” pretty much describes my feelings on every Gundam series I’ve ever seen. The only Gundam series that ever caught my interest was G Gundam. Probably because most Gundam series are war stories that just happen to have mecha in them. War stories just aren’t my thing.

  2. October 22, 2010 9:14 AM

    The nice thing about coming back to these series decades later is that we’ve forgotten how tedious we came to find Ranma 1/2 or Urusei Yatsura, and can enjoy them as if it were the first time and the jokes were not stale.

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